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Grind That Stump and Add Dollars

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All that remains of the tree is the stump, the unattractive remnants of a tree that once was. But before you can paint the canvas of dirt, the stump has to be removed. You don't want to work around it and you surely can't incorporate it into your plans. "You don't want it sticking out of the ground, and the owner may want a flower bed in its place," says Hinch.

There is a tool out there to help you in your time of need: a stump grinder! But you don't own a stump-grinder. You've heard of other landscape contractors who grind their own stumps. What should you do? Do you try to remove it yourself or do you sub it out? You find yourself sitting on the fence; you can?t make up your mind.

You call a few subcontractors to find out how much it will cost to grind down the stump, and when they will be able to get to the job. Well, that may not happen for a couple of weeks, you are told. You don?t want to wait that long, so you decide to go ahead and rent a stump grinder and do it yourself. After accomplishing the task, you realize that it wasn't that difficult; it was done in a timely manner and for less money.

This extra service could easily open the doors to a whole other area for you, providing you with more customers, and more importantly, increased cash flow. It makes sense for you to do this within your company, because not only is it profitable, but you can do it when you need to and not have some sub holding you up.

"If we had two or three stumps to grind, we would rent one," says Garrett Betts, owner of Southern Illinois Landscaping, Inc., DeSoto, Illinois. "But if you plan on doing more than a few stumps, purchasing a stump grinder might be a worthwhile investment." Providing this service gives your company more flexibility. La Rosa Landscape Company offers this service about 12 times a year, mainly when there are just one or two stumps. "For the most part we do our own stump grinding," says Hinch. "If you decide to do your own stump grinding, the next question would be how much of this work can you expect to do"

10_2.jpgIf you anticipate only a dozen or so jobs you might want to look into adding an attachment to your mini-skid steer loader, if you have one, or you could consider a small dedicated unit. However, if you start doing a considerable amount, you will want something more heavy duty.

When it comes to buying a stump grinder, there are a variety of dedicated units or attachments from which to choose. Much of the reasoning in choosing the equipment relates to their flexibility and use. Some units easily fit through gates, while larger units are less accessible. Some units are self-propelled while others rely on manpower.

Many dedicated units are versatile, lightweight and compact enough to fit through most standard backyard gates. "There are stump grinders small enough that don't do any damage to the landscape other than where you are cutting," says E-Z Trench's Vice President of Marketing Scotty Porter.

Both dedicated units and attachments get the job done. "With a crawler and skid loader, you can attach a stump head and it allows you to go anywhere," says Odegaard, attachment product specialist for Bobcat Company, West Fargo, North Dakota. "There is no stump you can't get to."

Attachments also offer the option of versatility and easy availability.

"Having one machine that can grind a stump and then, by adding a bucket to move the chips or backfill the hole, allows a contractor to work more efficiently," adds Odegaard. A contractor can eliminate the need to purchase a separate, dedicated machine for a single task, leaving you with multiple machines onsite.

After deciding whether you want a stump-grinder attachment or a dedicated unit, there is also the option of leasing, renting or purchasing the equipment. If you already have a skid steer or track loader, you might think about buying an attachment, especially if you don't see stump grinding as an everyday task.

You can also rent a dedicated unit, but ideally only if you're going to remove stumps every so often. If you find that you're removing stumps more frequently, you might want to buy. Between rental costs and labor, you might find your profit margins are razor thin, but well worth it when it comes to completing the job in a timely manner and to the customer?s satisfaction.

Still, there are some landscape contractors who just don't want to take on these projects. Some feel that for the few times they need to remove a tree stump they can't justify the purchase, so they simply sub-contract it out.

5_8.jpgOne company in particular that operates exclusively in this area is Stump Grinder Company, LLC, Alpharetta, Georgia. Owner Kevin Grady has built up a clientele of about 40 landscape contractors and a half-dozen tree care companies. He has nearly 5,500 customers that use him for their tree-related needs. Grady provides a custom stump grinding service. About 80% of his work is done on residential properties, while the remaining 20% is done commercially. His company has enough business to keep it running six days a week.

"Landscape contractors go through and do an inspection of what needs to be done on the site, then they call us to remove the stumps," says Butch Everett, Stay Green's vice president of tree care sales and operations, Santa Clarita, California. "It's not a huge source of revenue, but certainly its something that needs to be done."

Safety, as always, is a major factor to consider when choosing and using the various grinders and attachments that are available. "Some attachments don't have guards, and need to be held with two hands at a weird angle, which could be dangerous," claims Everett. "Eye protection and proper operation are the best safety measures," says Porter. Some dedicated units have safety features built in, such as a motion sensor, which shuts down the unit as soon as you move away from it.

6_8.jpgBy integrating stump grinding into your gamut of services, you're alleviating the cost and wait time for sub-contractors to remove the stump. You set the pace for the job. "It's a service we provide when we do our landscape installations," says Hinch. "The stump is in the way of our project, more or less, so we remove it."

If you find yourself encountering more and more stumps, a one-time investment will eliminate rental charges and create more diversity in your business. In the end, it makes your company more versatile and more appealing to customers, who can come to you for all of their landscaping needs.

 
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